Homily, Christmas Vigil
Updated: Feb 3, 2021
The Vigil Mass Readings can be found: [HERE].
Storytelling is a natural, and I’d say essential, aspect of the human experience. Long before any of us learned to read for ourselves, we’ve listened to stories, even from the time when we were children. That’s how culture is communicated from one generation to the next. Before there is a written tradition, there is an oral tradition. A tradition is proclaimed to us, and established story by story, like a building built up stone by stone.
That dynamic of storytelling is how we communicate our faith tradition. It’s no accident that Jesus is known as the Word of God, particularly in John’s gospel. We’re meant to listen to that Word and act on it. It’s no accident that the Mass, which is the primary means of communicating our faith, includes the Liturgy of the Word. We listen and meditate upon the Word of God before entering into the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
Incidentally, the Church actually has four different Mass settings for the Christmas solemnity. There’s this vigil Mass, a night Mass, a dawn Mass, and a day Mass. Each of these Masses has its own set of prayers, readings, and perhaps even homilies that emphasize different aspects of the nativity. If you were looking forward to a certain set of readings, but didn’t hear them at this Mass, chances are they’re being proclaimed at another one. At Holy Family, we’re doing all four of these Mass settings. Hence, our four different Mass times for Christmas.
Our gospel passage tonight is hauntingly beautiful in its storytelling. We hear the names of Christ’s ancestors down to Abraham. There’s a certain rhythm to that roster. Their names read almost like poetry. And not a single name is without significance. Each name contains other stories that accompany each figure.
But unlike a litany of saints, the genealogy we hear tonight reads more like a litany of sinners. Even their greatest leaders and kings were flawed men. Though being shining lamps in their time, their lights eventually dimmed. This is not a litany of champions; but a list of fallen ones who have awaited their true Savior.
With the rise and fall of each generation, a burning question begins to surface and linger: How long, O Lord? How long must we wait until the promised one is born; the one who will redeem us, and establish an everlasting kingdom? How long until our Savior is proclaimed in our midst?
It was important to the evangelist Matthew to contextualize the proclamation of Christ’s birth within this framework of lineage; to show how Jesus truly is the fruit of the Covenant between God and his people, but at the same time, is a sharp departure from the pattern of sin from past ages.
We see this as that lineage of sin bridges over to a new lineage of purity: David’s line through Joseph switches over to Mary, who marks a new beginning. She is immaculate, and the totality of God’s humanity comes from her. Biologically, even though Joseph and Jesus were unrelated; legally, they were father and son. Jesus truly is heir to David’s throne, not through blood, but through Mary’s marriage to Joseph. The implications of this affect us today.
In our own life situation, we too can be one among a long line of sinners. Our own family tree can consist of many flawed men and women, who also may have shined for a time, but who may have fallen from grace. We may not be biologically related to Jesus, but our relationship with the Church, and with Mary, the Church’s most preeminent member, makes Jesus heir to our various life histories, with all of our ups and downs. Jesus is heir to my throne and yours, through our union with the Church.
Israel waited so long to hear the proclamation of the Savior. And so, now, as it was nearly two-thousand years ago, I solemnly announce to you that same news of great joy, to communicate our faith tradition to you once again, and to bring our time of longing to an end:
The Twenty-fifth Day of December, when ages beyond number had run their course from the creation of the world, when God in the beginning created heaven and earth, and formed man in his own likeness; when century upon century had passed since the Almighty set his bow in the clouds after the Great Flood, as a sign of covenant and peace; in the twenty-first century since Abraham, our father in faith, came out of Ur of the Chaldees; in the thirteenth century since the People of Israel were led by Moses in the Exodus from Egypt; around the thousandth year since David was anointed King; in the sixty-fifth week of the prophecy of Daniel; in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; in the year seven hundred and fifty-two since the foundation of the City of Rome; in the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus; the whole world being at peace, Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to consecrate the world by his most loving presence, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and when nine months had passed since his conception, was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah, and was made man: The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.